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Intel SSD 730 Series review: A reliable, fast, and pricey HDD substitute

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Intel's latest 730 Series solid-state drive (SSD) is the first from the company that comes with a factory-overclocked SSD controller and NAND bus speeds. However, performance is not its strongest suit, but rather, its endurance.

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7.4

Intel SSD 730 Series

The Good

The <b>Intel SSD 730 Series</b> has a high endurance rating and comes with a five-year warranty. The drive offers a huge boost in performance compared with regular hard drives and can handle RAID configurations.

The Bad

The new drive doesn't support encryption, and its performance isn't the best among similarly priced SSDs.

The Bottom Line

At launch, the new Intel SSD 730 Series makes a very good internal drive choice for your computer, but it'll become a better value when its street price drops below the current suggested retail price.

In my testing, the new SSD was fast, though far from the fastest I've seen. It supports RAID configurations, and when used in RAID 0 its performance was basically doubled. But that's true for most, if not all, RAID-enabled SSDs. The drive has about the same power consumption as a standard 2.5-inch hard drive, which means it won't help with a laptop's battery life.

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The new Intel SSD 730 Series comes with an all-aluminum casing and is 7mm thick.
The new Intel SSD 730 Series comes with all-aluminum casing and is 7mm thick. Dong Ngo/CNET

Design and features
Available in the now-familiar 7mm chassis, the new 730 Series drive resembles previous Intel SSDs, such as the 520 Series. It boasts an all-aluminum casing that makes it feels solid but light. The drive takes the 2.5-inch standard design of internal drive and will fit in almost everywhere a standard SATA hard drive is used. The host device, such as a computer, needs to support the latest SATA 3 (6Gbps) standard to get the best performance out of it. It will show great improvement in a SATA 2-based systems, as well.


240GB 480GB
Device type 7mm, 2.5-inch SSD same
Interface SATA 3, SATA 2 same
Controller Third-gen Intel controller same
NAND flash memory 20nm Intel MLC flash same
Random read 86,000 IOPS 89,000 IOPS
Random write 56,000 IOPS 74,000 IOPS
Sequential read 550 MB/s 550 MB/s
Sequential write 270 MB/s 470 MB/s
Mean time between failures 2 million hours same
Energy consumption 3.8W (1.5W idle) 5.5W (1.5W idle)
Endurance 70GB written daily same
MSRP $249 $489
Warranty 5 years same

Intel says the new drive comes with a factory-overclocked SSD controller and NAND bus speeds. The controller clock is now at 600Mhz (up from 400Mhz in the previous model), and the NAND bus speed is now at 100Mhz (up from 83Mhz). It also comes with firmware optimized for clients (workstation and home PCs). In all, this is an SSD for the masses rather than for server applications. This also explains why it doesn't support hardware encryption, which requires supported motherboards -- generally available only in an enterprise environment -- to work properly.

The most impressive feature of the 730 Series is its endurance rating. All SSDs have a finite number of write, or program/erase cycles (P/E cycles), meaning you can only write so many times to them before they become unreliable. (Read more about endurance here.) Intel guarantees that you can write about 70GB on the new 730 Series per day, every day, for five years. Now, 70GB is a lot of data; most of us don't write even one-tenth of that on a given day, and definitely not every day. In short, you will likely have another reason to replace the drive well before it runs out of P/E cycles.

Cost per gigabyte
At the current cost of $249 (240GB) or $489 (480GB), the new Intel SSD 730 is slightly more than $1 per gigabyte and is one of the most expensive consumer-grade SSDs on the market. This is the suggested retail price, however, and the street price is likely lower when the drive is available for purchase next month. The drive does come with a 5-year warranty which somewhat justifies its pricing. Plus, it promises to last for a very long time.

In comparison, however, many other SSDs on the market are significantly cheaper. The Samsung 840 Evo, for example, costs close to just 50 cents per gigabyte; it's also faster and offers up to 1TB of storage space.

Standard internal drives' cost per GB
(In dollars, based on current street pricing)

Performance
Despite the overclocked controller and flash memory, the 730 Series didn't blow me away with its performance. It's by no means slow, however. When tested as a secondary drive, it registered a sustained sequential write speed of 266MBps and a read speed of 267MBps. When used as the main storage device, hosting the operating system and performing both writing and reading at the same time, it scored 190MBps. In all, that's about the average I've seen among other recently reviewed SSDs.

CNET Labs' Data Transfer scores
(In MB per second; longer bars indicate better performance)

Samsung 840 Evo (Rapid Mode)
193.32
289.32
378.44

OCZ Vector
277.84
286.77
243.01

Plextor M5 Pro Xtreme
270.8
269.78
236.18

Samsung 840 Evo
184.45
266.9
257.13


266.04
265.53
189.52

OCZ Vector 150
200.46
265.32
231.42

Seagate 600 SSD
275.21
259.01
192.26

SanDisk Extreme II
203.42
255.86
224.27

Transcend SSD720
269.55
230.58
145.26

WD Black 2 Dual Drive
228.2
114.66
174.65

Seagate Laptop Thin SSHD
84.75
39.61
10.57

I also tested the drive with PC Mark 8, which benchmarks the entire system. The 730 Series received its best score on the Storage test with a score of 4,868. Still, this was below average. For the Home and Work benchmark, which is geared toward measuring the performance for home and work applications, respectively, it registered just 2,748 and 3,729, respectively, among the lowest I've seen in SSDs.

PC Mark 8 scores
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Samsung 840 Evo (Rapid)
4990
4605
3324

Samsung 840 Evo
4967
4665
3339

OCZ Vector
4958
4646
3327

OCZ Vector 150
4948
4909
3437

Plextor M5 Pro Xtreme
4948
4658
3331

SanDisk Extreme II
4938
4680
3306

Seagate 600 SSD
4896
4621
3296

WD Black 2 Dual Drive
4869
4935
3439


4868
3729
2748

Transcend SSD720
4779
4658
3328

Seagate Laptop Thin SSHD
2512
4585
3251

I did try two units of the 730 Series together in a RAID 0 setup in a anecdotal test, and the performance was indeed significantly improved -- almost double what I got using just a single drive. However, this is to be expected in almost all RAID 0 setups utilizing any supported SSDs.

Overall, don't let the numbers bother you. If you're still using a hard drive on your computer, switching to the Intel SSD 730 Series will definitely bring the system to a much higher level.

Conclusion
The new Intel SSD 730 Series doesn't have much that impresses in terms of performance, but it has an excellent endurance rating, and the included five-year warranty means that Intel is really behind the drive's quality. If you're looking for a reliable SSD to build your own system or to upgrade a desktop that still runs on a hard drive, this new SSD will make a great choice, especially once its price drops below $1 per gigabyte.

If battery life is also a concern, however, I'd recommend a drive with better power consumption, such as the Samsung 840 Evo, which is also currently a lot more affordable.

IntelSSD730_(5).jpg
7.4

Intel SSD 730 Series

Score Breakdown

Setup 8Features 7Performance 7Support 9